Croatia Prepares for Papal Visit: John Paul II’s 100th Apostolic Journey

Interview with Monsignor Tomo Petic, Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Croatia

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ZAGREB, MAY 20, 2003 ( John Paul II’s third visit to Croatia June 5-9 marks his 100th apostolic journey; national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Croatia tells Fides about the nation’s preparation for the Holy Father.

Q: Why is the Pope making a third visit to Croatia?

Monsignor Petic: The Pope is coming to visit the Church in Croatia for the third time after visits in 1994 and 1998. The main reason this time is the beatification of Sister Marija Petkovic during the Mass which the Holy Father will celebrate on June 6 at Dubrovnik.

Marija Petkovic was born on December 10, 1892 at Blato, in the island of Korcula, in the diocese of Dubrovnik. While still a girl she devoted herself to helping the poor and later founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Mercy. She died a saintly death in Rome, on July 9, 1966. Beside Dubrovnik, the Pope will visit four other towns Rijeka, Osijek, Dakovo and Zadar.

Q: How are people preparing for the Pope’s arrival?

Monsignor Petic: Our Church in Croatia and all Croats are very happy about this visit. Moreover it will be the 100th papal journey of this pontificate and so it is an important occasion. With this third visit the Pope wants to give another sign of his concern and care for our Church and our country, still a young nation.

Q: What is different about this third visit by Pope John Paul II?

Monsignor Petic: When the Holy Father came to Croatia for the first time in 1994 it was still the time of the terrible war and the Pope wished to reward our fidelity to the Church and to our Christian faith which we have kept for 13 centuries, showing us his gratitude. In those years his words of encouragement were very important for us.

On the occasion of his second visit, in 1998, he went to the national Marian shrine Maria Districa near Zagreb and he beatified Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, who led the Archdiocese of Zagreb in the terrible years of World War II. The cardinal courageously defended human rights, trying to protect everyone, especially Jews who were deprived of their rights by the war.

Cardinal Stepinac saved the lives of many prisoners and deported persons. In 1945, immediately after the war, when the communist regime wanted to separate us from the Church of Rome, founding a national Church under state control, the cardinal opposed this with all his strength and paid for his resistance with his life. In 1946 he was sentenced to 16 years in prison and he died a prisoner in the parish where he was born, Krasic. He was a great example for his fidelity to the Gospel and to the Church. During the decades under communism he was for us a light from which our Church and our people drew the courage to resist.

With this third visit, besides beatifying Marija Petkovic, the Holy Father wishes also to sustain us in the difficulties we encounter as a Church in this time of transition. For fifty years we were excluded from the development of the universal Church from a point of view of theology and pastoral care, and this has left clear marks.

As we strive to regain ground as quickly as possible, we often falter because new structures cannot create the new spirit and awareness, which are lacking, nor can they compensate for what is lacking. Formation of the spirit and conscience takes the time necessary for growth and maturing; at times we are too impatient.

Q: The local Church is preparing for the visit reflecting on the theme of the Family. Why was this theme chosen?

Monsignor Petic: In preparation for the papal visit our bishops addressed a letter to the faithful entitled «The Family – the Way of the Church and the Nation.» In the letter, the Bishops stress the importance of the family for the Church and for the State. It is the place in which life is born from the biological point of view but also the place where the life of faith is born and grows. This is why the bishops call on the people to reflect on the role of the family in the Church and in society and to work together to promote the values of the family.

It is in the family that the future sources of social and economic life are formed. So it is important to know which values are transmitted by families.
Responsibility, seriousness, spirit of sacrifice, dedication, generosity, and lastly tolerance and respect for those who are different, are virtues which are learned first of all in the family. Therefore, the life of faith in the family is also of irreplaceable importance. Prayer, listening to the Word of God, taking part in Sunday Mass are the spiritual resources for the growth of a healthy faith life.

The bishops also express concern for the evils which threaten the family today, including the economic difficulties in our country where unemployment is very high. Lastly the bishops indicate as models the two new Croat blessed, Marija Petkovic and Ivan Merz, committed lay man who lived 1896-1928, whom the Holy Father will beatify when he visits Banja-Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina. The new blessed are the proof of what divine grace can achieve when a person puts himself totally at the disposal of the Lord. Following their example we must not be discouraged by present difficulties and crises.

CROATIA – Information from the Statistical Yearbook of the Church

Population 4,650,000; Catholics 3,745,000; ecclesiastical circumscriptions 15; bishops 27; diocesan priests 1,449; religious priests 810; brothers 98; sisters 3,464; catechists 1,512; major seminarians 385; charity and healthcare institutes: 120.

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